If someone were to be asked what their definition was of body modification, the almost universal answer would probably be any form of tattoos and piercings. According to Bradley University, body modification can be defined as “Dieting, body-building, tanning, ear piercing, and cosmetic surgery … and practices such as tattooing, body piercing, and scarification are becoming increasingly popular”, but the other forms are on the rise as well. Body modification has become a controversial issue in today’s society due to it becoming more mainstream amongst the American people, especially the younger generation. How did body modification make its way into America and increase its way into popularity?
The history of body modification dates to a while back with America being inspired by other countries to take on this practice. Some practices that are still used in present America include: “nose piercing associated with Hinduism, neck elongation in Thailand and Africa, henna tattooing in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, female and male circumcision”() and tattoos and body piercings from an unknown origin but have been used since the B.C. era. While many are unsure of how body modification made its way in America, one thing that is for certain is that it has had a huge impact on those who have decided to engage in it.
With the practice of Body modification receiving more popularity, the number of younger people that are getting some form of body modification has risen as time progresses. During a survey conducted by Statista in 2017, the respondents were asked at what age they got their first tattoo and/or piercing. The results concluded that 39 percent of respondents said they were 18 years of age and younger when they got their first tattoo and 71 percent of respondents said they were 18 years old and younger when they had their first piercing. Due to the rising number of young people getting a form of body modification, this raises the question of why does the younger generation feel the need to get these modifications and why so many? There are many reasons why people decide to get body modifications, but the most common reasons being: to conform to society’s body ideals of beauty, show affiliation with the membership in a group, mark social status or convey information about an individual’s personal life story and/or accomplishments. Social acceptance and self-expression are the main driving factors that push people to get some form of body modification.
While in today’s society many people are firm believers in self-expression and have the right to do whatever they please with their bodies, this in return can impact their future choices when trying to choose a career, especially those in which are of high status and works closely with the public as well as government services such as doctors, teachers, and lawyers. Body Modification has been a taboo in the workforce since the beginning of its time and unusually harms a person’s chance of acquiring a job due to the visibility of these body modifications. In return, this creates a dilemma for people because they would have to have a choice between embracing who they truly are or being able to get a decent job.
When looking for a model employee, the majority of employers are looking for an applicant that stands out in a resume based on experience not on physical appearance. Body modification can result in drastic discrimination from potential employers and society as a whole. When people discuss getting a form of body modification with their family members, they are faced with a range of remarks from their family about how its unprofessional body modifications are and how this will be a decision that they will have to deal with for the rest of their life; body modification can result in severe discrimination from potential employers and society as a whole. Some reasons that employers tend to overlook potential applicants with forms of body modification are not limited to but include the potential of the employees not being taken seriously by close-minded clients, the concern that the company/brand name/reputation could be ruined by an employee’s outlandish tattoos/piercings, and lastly, the concern that one person’s body art could be perceived as offensive or hostile to a co-worker or customer.
In a recent survey that was conducted on human resource managers and recruiters, “ 86% say that visible tattoos and body piercings on an interviewee would be viewed negatively”. While there are several laws in places that prevent discrimination in the workplace from occurring, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin; unfortunately, these laws in place do not place the employer at fault for turning down an applicant based on physical appearance.
In the case of Cloutier v. Costco Wholesale Corp, former Costco employee Kimberly Cloutier was a member of the Church of Body Modification, which is an organized church that emphasizes spiritual growth through the expression of body modification. During Cloutier’s time working at Costco, she began to become more engaged in her practice through getting more tattoos and piercings.
When her store position was moved to a sales position in the food department, she was informed that her facial piercings will be a problem and that they violated Costco’s dress code policy. When Cloutier refused to remove her piercings, she was fired and Cloutier decided to sue under Title VII. However, she lost the case because the federal district court found that the Church of Body Modification was a bona fide religion and that her religion did not require a display of facial piercings at all times. “On appeal, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court, but further held that Costco had no duty to accommodate its sales employee’s religious beliefs by exempting her from the organization’s dress code because to do so would impose an undue hardship”.
Another court case that involved Body Modification discrimination involved a Fort Worth police chief and an officer named Michael Riggs, who worked in a bike-patrol unit and unlike other cops, was not allowed to wear short sleeves and shorts due to The chief’s concern that Riggs had extensive tattoos, highly visible on his arms and legs would affect the professional persona of the police force. Riggs complied with the chief’s orders to wear long pants and shirts while and duty and due to his compliance he suffered from heat exhaustion while on duty.
After the incident, “The police chief reassigned Riggs to a desk job and later to a plain-clothes unit. The chief then told Riggs that he could wear a police officer’s uniform, but only if the uniform included long sleeves and long pants”. Riggs took matters into his own hands and decided to bring an Equal Protection claim against his employer, arguing that the police chief treated him differently from his non-tattooed colleagues and that the chief had no right to do so.
However, similar to the Cloutier case, the court did not agree with the tattooed employee. The Texas federal court held that a law enforcement agency’s “choice of organization, dress, and equipment for law enforcement personnel is a decision entitled to the same sort of presumption of legislative validity as are state choices designed to promote other aims within the cognizance of the State’s police power”. The court had come to the decision that the police chief had legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for handling the Riggs situation and agreed that Riggs’s tattoos would distract from the uniform appearance that is needed for good police work and as a result for requiring the only officer in the Fort Worth Police Department who had tattoos covering his legs and arms to wear a uniform not required of other police officers.
Body Modification has always been a taboo in the workforce due to them drawing attention that employers do not desire. In both cases that were presented, the act of employees being singled out and being denied their ability to express themselves is highly prevalent in both court cases. Also, the courts took the employer’s side in both cases and did not even attempt to understand the perspective of the employee because they agreed that in these instances the appearance of the employee could be detrimental to the reputations of the company that they represented.
There are some examples out there of people with multiple forms of Body Modification with jobs that make quite a lot of money. In the health care professional field, most employee handbooks have a designated section regarding tattoos and piercings. In very rare cases, certain hospital positions are only available to people who have no tattoos. In general, however, most medical facilities apply minor restrictions that prohibit excessive and/or offensive tattoos. Usually, they would want you to cover open tattoos with clothing.
Dr. Sarah Gray is a primary example of people that are prospering in the workforce with body modification. Dr. Gray was a former Inked Magazine Australia/ New Zealand cover model and was in school to become a doctor while modeling; her hard work eventually paid off in the long run because she graduated from medical school at the University of Adelaide in 2018.
In an interview with Ink Magazine, Dr. Sarah Gray stated that “The medical world, on the other hand, has been fabulous to me. I’ve worked with some of the most senior physicians and surgeons within the state and they have welcomed me with open arms through my clinical training. I have always received excellent feedback assessments from them and was told on a number of occasions that I was one of the best students they had seen in years. I’m very conscious of looking different, but ultimately I know I’m a hard worker. And if you work hard and put your mind to something, nothing will get in your way. When you’re memorable for looking different, you just have to make sure it’s for the right reasons”.
When it comes to Gray’s patients that she helps treat in the hospital reactions to her highly tattooed body, the patients are very receptive and accepting of her body art. Being a heavily tattooed female doctor comes with its own set of unique challenges and experiences, however, Gray is confident that she will continue to be judged based on her performance rather than her body art.
Another controversial topic nowadays is the rise in teachers or people who work in a school having visible tattoos. For many years, teachers have decided not to get visible tattoos or tattoos period because it was thought they were setting a bad example for students. This is due to the fact that tattoos are mostly associated with prison and violent gangs, however, this is not the case. If anything, tattoos started out as a ritual that had many purposes for many reasons. They are mostly used as a way to express themselves, as a part of a cultural ritual or Nowadays people get tattoos that mean something to them, and most of the time they’re pretty harmless.
In a scientific article by David Wiseman, he conducted a study in which 128 undergraduates’ perceptions of tattoos on a model described as a college instructor was assessed. They viewed one of four photographs of a tattooed or nontattooed female model. Students rated her on nine teaching-related characteristics. Analyses indicated that the presence of tattoos was associated with some positive changes in ratings: students’ motivation, being imaginative about assignments, and how likely students were to recommend her as an instructor.
According to Jeff Flowers, who is a member of the Joplin board, in an Associated Press story ‘There’s a stigma associated with (tattoos) and it’s not a good stigma,’. He interviewed Doug Flowers, St. Joseph School District director of human resources, who stated that small flowers and other nicely done tattoos are not an issue for the local district and that there are more important matters to focus on. ‘In a district where 54 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch, we have much bigger issues at hand than whether or not a teacher had part of a tattoo showing,’ he said. ‘I’ve never in three years of being in this position or in five years of being principal had a call or concern from a parent about a teacher having a tattoo’.
Mr. Doug Flowers said the St. Joseph School District does enforce a dress code upon their staff that basically requires all staff to dress professionally and in a manner that doesn’t interfere with their teaching. So, unless a teacher or other school employee wears something that is inappropriate, it will not be an issue. He also stated that having a tattoo will not affect someone wanting to be hired by the district either and further reiterated that “it’s difficult enough to find quality teachers to fill the positions we have and to eliminate possibly a very good teacher because they have a tattoo is something I don’t see as an issue big enough to not hire the best and brightest teachers out there.
Looking at both of these instances brings light to the old saying to “not judge a book by its cover”. In both situations, they emphasized the idea that having body modification does not inhibit the person’s ability to do an exemplary job in the career field of their choosing. Many people tend to not trust professionals who have any type of Body Modification due to the old traditional way of affiliating body modification with ruthless or mischievous behavior. However, with the growing number of people getting a form of body modification, this viewpoint is seen to be declining over the years with the acceptance of body modifications growing widespread. Following a company’s dress code policy is required protocol in the workplace, but telling employees they must take special measures, such as covering up tattoos with heavy makeup or clothing regardless of the weather, seems excessive and unfair.
Outside appearance should not be a detrimental factor of whether or not someone is hired for a job; the color of one’s hair or the ink on their skin is irrelevant to how qualified they are for an occupation. How is judging one’s suitability for a job position based on the stereotypes surrounding their “outlandish” appearance any different from judging someone based on their ethnicity? Prejudice toward people with body modifications can be found outside of the workplace as well. Many people seem to think that because a part of someone’s appearance may not be seen as “normal,” such as having a vibrant, artificial hair color, they are entitled to remark or state their criticism of it.
Tattoos can especially hold significance in one’s culture, religion, and views, or could be used to commemorate a loved one or mark special occasions. Tattoos hold meaning to those who acquire them, whether it be a reminder for oneself to live every day to their best potential or simply loving an image to the extent of wanting to see it on their body.
An appearance is a form of self-expression, whether it be the way someone dresses or having a sleeve of tattoos. Why should one form of self-expression be treated differently than the other and limit one’s ability to acquire a job? Just as it is unfair to jump to conclusions about someone based on their ethnicity, it is unfair to judge people based on the way they have chosen to look.